Friday, July 02, 2010

Deal Deliberations

Fred Wilson has a post up regarding Foursquare's recent funding round, defending the lengthy process taken by the startup. What started as financing discussions turned into acquisition talks, then ultimately returned to financing as Foursquare decided they'd rather grow organically than cash out now.

That's a respectable, even admirable, choice. It's not without risk, but it's good to see a company swing for the fences. And while I have often urged the virtues of speed in getting deals done, I agree with Fred that Foursquare did the right thing in taking their time through this process.

The distinction lies between the time taken to evaluate alternatives and the time taken to button the deal up once the company has made its choice. During the evaluation/auction phase, the risks of waiting are likely to be heavily outweighed by the benefits of seeing things through. That may mean getting to the best acquisition deal, or arriving at the informed decision to move forward alone (or with new financing).

However, it's once that decision has been made that things need to be moved forward with haste. Even if you haven't chosen your partner and an auction still persists, once the decision to do one type of deal or another is in place it's time to race for the finish. Why? Because at this point the risk scenario is flipped. The risks attendant with delay - new competitors emerging, changes in the macro environment, etc. - strongly outweigh any potential benefits of waiting. This doesn't mean not negotiating hard, but it does mean not allowing any delay due to lawyerly handwringing or people not being willing to work around the clock to get the deal papered.

Or as someone else put more memorably: "Only one thing matters in this life: Get them to sign on the line that is dotted."

I don't know how long it took Foursquare to get their financing closed once they'd made the decision to go that route, but if it took more than a couple of weeks that would be cause for criticism.

Not, however, the time they took to reflect on their options and make the choice between selling now and moving forward independently.